Girls and young women gain ground in male-dominated fields
When 20-year-old Kalaichelvi Kanagalingam could no longer afford her tuition fees in Kilinochichi, the Northern Sri Lanka native from a post-conflict area reluctantly dropped out of school, feeling hopeless. Now, three years later, she is receiving on-the-job-training as a data entry operator at a garment factory, and is earning enough money to take care of her diabetic mother and her disabled father.
Ms. Kanagalingam obtained a National Certificate in Information & Communication supported by the Centre for Women’s Research (CENWOR)—a grantee of UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality (FGE). CENWOR’s two-year programme is aimed at increasing the access of female secondary school dropouts to employment-oriented skills that meet market demand, and helping young women break free from the limitations of stereotypically ‘female’ occupations that keep women below the poverty line. In its first two years, the programme helped more than 1,300 young women from low-income families enter into official vocational training and apprenticeship programmes.
“With the right set of skills and tools, and when given the opportunity to unleash their creativity and strong motivation, young women can become extremely powerful agents of change,” says Elisa Fernández, Chief of UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality. “We are observing young women emerging as strong leaders across all regions. They are courageously entering male-dominated political and economic spaces to voice their needs and priorities and to make concrete proposals, redefining power and leadership on their own terms.”
This has certainly been the case in Palestine, where a group of 26 young women drafted an alternative constitution challenging the lack of gender equality in the current version prepared by the official committee, comprised of only men. As a result of their advocacy efforts, equity principles have gained public support, including the support of a petition by over 360 political Palestinian leaders in favour of the revised text. Through workshops held across Palestine, more than 700 young people have learned about political analysis, lobbying, advocacy and constitution-building.
“I used to be afraid to give my opinion, but now I tell people about complex issues like politics, women’s rights and the Constitution. I feel strong,” said Amani Thawabta, a 24-year-old law school graduate from the West Bank who took part in the Constitutional drafting team.
In Jamaica, where women’s political participation ranks the country 105th out of 143 countries , 300 young women advocates have been propelling discussions about issues such as LGBT rights, or the current review of the country’s Sexual Offences Act, which contains discriminatory and unequal policies against women and gay communities. Thanks to training on media and advocacy provided by Fund grantee Women’s Media Watch, the young activists had the chance to strengthen their leadership and communication skills and pipe up as vocal participants in legislative change.
As the Education & Outreach Manager of JFLAG, Jamaica’s leading LGBT lobby group, Latoya Nugent is a significant voice for a lesbian/queer women on the margins. Since attending the trainings, she has progressively increased her advocacy for gender equality and women’s rights and has been a strong force in driving the discussion on the review of the Sexual Offences Act.
“One of the key things that jumped out at me during the training was ... 'hold the government accountable to their words',” said Nugent.
In Southeast Asia, The International Women’s Rights Action Watch for Asia Pacific is supporting a cohort of 114 young women with a goal to build the future generation of gender equality activists. The programme is providing them with training to boost their substantive, emotional and rhetorical capacity to engage in policy discussions that concern them. It is also cultivating their outreach skills and ability to influence their peers and decision-makers in the region, using social media and through their participation in high-level regional meetings.
UN Women continues to invest in civil society initiatives that put girls and young women at the forefront of political and economic empowerment initiatives, particularly in the context of the new sustainable development agenda. As part of its third global grant-making cycle launched in March 2015, the Fund has selected 50 programme proposals from civil society organizations that target 160,000 young women and girls as key direct beneficiaries